Cutting the Cake Down to Size
By Hannah Everman
The date is set for July 6, 2013. The dark blue bridesmaid dresses are ordered, and the bride’s dress is hanging in her closet at her home in Eugene, Ore. Everything is on schedule for the wedding of Sarah Brandenburg and John Mellgren. However, one thing is still up in the air – what’s for dessert? The two of them have been sampling cupcakes for about a month now, trying to decide on the perfect cupcake bakery to cater their wedding.
The word around the wedding altar lately is that cupcakes are replacing the traditional, four tier, white wedding cake of the past.
“I think cupcakes got really popular about five years ago, and they’re still pretty popular,” said Heidi Ellis, a wedding planner with Moxie Events who is working with Sarah and John.
“We had at least two weddings that did it last summer and one is already interested in doing it next summer.”
The buzz isn’t just here in Eugene. “The Cupcake Bubble,” a 2009 article in Slate Magazine said the trend started in Los Angeles and New York and just took over from there. Sprinkles in Los Angeles considers itself the first cupcake bakery and expanded from its base in Beverly Hills to five locations in California, Texas and Arizona. Similarly, Crumbs Bakery started on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and grew throughout the entire city; and the cupcake industry just keeps growing.
“It makes sense, you can have as many flavors as you want,” said Sarah. “In terms of more or less people, it’s easier to do plus or minus with cupcakes than one cake, too.”
Multiple options of flavors and presentation isn’t the only draw to cupcakes, though, price also has a deciding factor in the tasty decision. “They’re a lot cheaper,” said Sarah.
Alicia and Michael Heater got married on Sept. 29 in Eugene this year and had one of their close friends who is a pastry chef make their cupcakes. Alicia and Michael said that the cost of cupcakes is already cheaper than a traditional wedding cake, but having a friend make them cut down on the cost a significant amount as well.
They had several flavors: chocolate, vanilla, lemon, and red velvet that totaled about two hundred cupcakes, stacked in tiers, similar to how a wedding cake would be presented. Alicia said she’s seen other brides doing it as well.
“I think it’s definitely becoming more of a trend,” said Alicia.
Heidi said that at Moxie Events, approximately 30 – 40 percent of their weddings have cupcakes now.
According to FoodBeast.com, cupcakes are “considered the fastest-growing segment of baked-goods from 2008 – 2013 and continues to be an unwavering topic in the blogosphere.” They said that cupcakes are over a $200 million industry now, and making more appearances at weddings. “Cupcakes are now served at 13 percent of weddings,” according to FoodBeast.com.
Not only can cupcakes be easier on your wallet, but they offer other benefits as well.
“I think it’s fun, you can be more creative,” said Heidi. “A traditional wedding cake, you know everyone’s seen it, and there’s only so much you can do with it.”
“Wedding cakes are really pretty and they have all this decoration,” said Sarah. “But, you’re paying extra money for the decoration, and it’s fondant and doesn’t really taste that good.”
Heidi also said there’s been an increase in couples seeking vegan and gluten-free options for their desserts, which can be easier to do with cupcakes.
“I think it’s kind of hard to accommodate everyone with just one cake,” said Heidi.
When Laurel and Matt Mathiesen got married, having the option of something gluten-free was a primary factor that led them to choosing cupcakes. Laurel is allergic to gluten, so they considered getting her a separate cupcake, and the idea grew from there.
“The biggest factor for us was that people could try more than one,” said Laurel. “That way if you didn’t like a flavor you could try a different one, rather than just having one flavor of cake.”
Laurel and Matt chose The Divine Cupcake in Eugene to cater their wedding, because their cupcakes are strictly vegan. There is never any dairy or egg ingredient in their cupcakes, and they also have gluten-free options. Thaddeus Moore, vice president of operations at The Divine Cupcake, said the movement towards more allergen awareness has strongly increased the cupcake trend.
“More folks are trying to be gluten/nut/soy/dairy/egg/sugar free than ever before,” said Thaddeus. “We can do all of that in one order, and in many flavors so every guest is happy.”
Standing behind the counter, with the glass case filled with an assortment of cupcakes to his right, Joe McFadden, a barista at The Divine Cupcake, said that he thinks weddings with cupcakes are becoming more popular all the time.
“Each year we keep getting a lot more,” he said.
They cater between 30 and 60 weddings a year, and Thaddeus said the summer months are always their busiest time.
“The offerings of different flavors for each guest and no cutting fees are very attractive to people,” said Thaddeus.
The Divine Cupcake can do any kind of decorations, different color frostings, and they have their own tier stands that can hold over one hundred cupcakes. Laurel and Matt had a pyramid display with regular and bite-sized cupcakes.
“They’re adorable on display,” said Thaddeus.
The transition to more gluten-free and vegan options in cupcakes is not all that’s made them popular. Social media may have also helped bring attention to them.
“I think it’s becoming a trend, especially more and more with Pinterest and those kinds of things,” said Laurel. “I think it’s more prominent because people are talking about it more.”
On Pinterest.com, there are multiple wedding themed “bulletin boards.” The board, “Hot Trends for 2012 Weddings,” has posts of cupcake accessories sold by Koyal Wholesale Weddings. You can get a plethora of items to customize your cupcakes including: cupcake toppers, custom made cupcake wrappers, and cupcake stands. For instance, you can special order personalized “Mr. and Mrs.” toppers to display on top of the cupcakes that are for the bride and groom.
Another aspect of media that has boosted the awareness of the creativity in cupcake making is the hit show “Cupcake Wars” on The Food Network. In each episode, four of the country’s top bakers face off in three elimination challenges until only one decorator remains. The prize is $10,000 and the opportunity to showcase their cupcakes at a winning event. This show has drawn a lot of attention towards cupcakes and the inventive things you can do with them since it first aired in 2010.
Sarah and John sit at their kitchen table, after dinner, with three different flavors of cupcakes in front of them. John takes a knife and cuts each one in half, giving half to Sarah and keeping the other half on his plate. They both taste each cupcake individually, and consider things like: frosting, moistness or dryness and the overall look of the cupcake. These cupcakes are from Hideaway Bakery, another local bakery in Eugene. After sampling cupcakes from The Divine Cupcake, Sweet Life Bakery and others, they’ve decided to commit to Hideaway Bakery.
“Their chocolate cupcakes were quite stellar,” said Sarah, chuckling.
John is also interested in having a vegan option, which Hideaway offers as well as gluten-free cupcakes. They want to be conscious of people’s nutritional needs, and they hope to be able to satisfy everyone. They’re also planning on having many options between flavors. They are anticipating having chocolate, carrot cake, white cake, and possibly a coconut flavor.
“John has a bit of a coconut obsession,” said Sarah.
The winter months are slow for the wedding business; however, the prediction from Thaddeus and Heidi is that the cupcake trend will keep thriving, especially as people continue to come up with more unique ways to do it.
“People are always looking for something new,” said Heidi. “It’s definitely still popular and I think there will definitely be more in the future.”